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Daily Briefing

11.08.2021
Today's climate and energy headlines
DAILY BRIEFING Senate passes $1tn infrastructure bill, handing Biden a bipartisan win
Senate passes $1tn infrastructure bill, handing Biden a bipartisan win

News.

Senate passes $1tn infrastructure bill, handing Biden a bipartisan win
The New York Times Read Article

The US Senate has given bipartisan approval to a $1tn infrastructure bill that has been a core part of President Joe Biden’s agenda, including his climate change strategy, the New York Times reports. According to the newspaper, the package will fund new climate resilience initiatives, modernisation of the nation’s power grid and “the most funding for Amtrak since the passenger rail service was founded in 1971”. The billions of dollars it sets aside for climate adaptation amount to “a tacit, bipartisan acknowledgment that the country is ill prepared for a worsening climate”. The Washington Post notes that $550bn in the package is entirely new money, including funds for electric car charging stations and zero-emission school buses. While the infrastructure bill passed in a 69-30 vote, Reuters notes that Democrats “pivoted quickly” to a second package, this one amounting to $3.5tn. While this package is not set to receive such bipartisan support in the Senate, the Democrats aim to plan to push it through over the next few months using a process called “budget reconciliation here,” which bypasses normal rules requiring 60 votes to pass most legislation, according to the newswire. It adds that House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi has stated that they will not pass either the infrastructure bill or the other spending package, which also contains climate-relevant funds, until both are delivered. According to the Washington Post, the “evolution of the two bills provide a lesson in how the political climate in Washington makes it difficult to act with the urgency the science says is necessary”.

In other news, the Hill reports that Biden administration is proposing the restoration of Obama-era rules aimed at increasing efficiency of consumer lightbulbs following a rollback on the variety of bulbs covered under Donald Trump.

Meanwhile, Reuters reports that the Biden administration is “quietly discussing” a target date of 2050 for decarbonising aircraft as “part of the White House’s broader push to fight climate change”. The piece says the administration is considering incentives to support private-sector production of sustainable aviation fuel. Separately, Energy Monitor reports that the EU is “still flying solo on tackling aviation emissions”, with its emissions trading system (ETS) which only covers domestic flights.

Finally, the Hill reports that various Republican-led states have asked a court to force the Biden administration to sell offshore drilling leases, arguing that it is not following a court order requiring an end to the pause on leasings.

UK: Rishi Sunak accused of blocking climate change plans by refusing to commit funding for net-zero drive
The i Newspaper Read Article

UK chancellor Rishi Sunak has been accused of blocking progress on tackling climate change following the publication of the new IPCC report, according to the i newspaper. The piece states that Sunak is being “increasingly singled out” as the main obstacle blocking the government’s plans to achieve net-zero emissions, due to his hesitancy in committing money towards the target. It notes that business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has “complained publicly” that he has been blocked from publishing crucial documents, such as the heat and buildings strategy, which will include details on the replacement of gas boilers. Meanwhile, the Times reports that minister may “downgrade” plans to ban the installation of new gas boilers from 2035, changing the date from a “hard deadline” to merely an “ambition”. The piece notes that this is due to concerns about placing additional costs on homeowners.

Meanwhile, the Sun reports that Conservative MPs in the “red wall” seats in the north of England “turned fire on ministers last night after shock polling revealed Tory voters will be hit hardest by Boris Johnson’s expensive green revolution”. It cites a “a fiery WhatsApp tirade” in which MPS expressed concerns about the “electoral cost of pursuing green policies”. Meanwhile, a comment piece in the Daily Telegraph by Jeremy Warner is titled: “The cost of curbing climate change is lower than you think.” He argues that when it comes to paying for measures to cut emissions “there are also potentially substantial offsetting economic gains in the shape of jobs and investment”, adding “none of this is to deny the political challenge of selling the costs to the public”. Writing for UnHerd, Peter Franklin says: “In the next few months we’re going to see the most retrograde parts of the Right do everything they can to divert the government from its climate agenda. And like the worst parts of the Left, they’re going to try and turn the environment into a culture war. But it isn’t. In this country, the fight for a greener, cleaner future is a unifying issue.”

ITV News reports that campaigners against a new coal mine in West Cumbria have welcomed comments by Boris Johnson that leaders should “consign coal to history”. However, a piece in the Financial Times is titled: “Boris Johnson’s mining gaffe risks breaking fragile bond with new Tory voters.” Finally, the Guardian reports on calls for “regenerative farming” in the UK to help cut its agricultural emissions.

China signals steady course after UN climate warning
AFP via France 24 Read Article

China insisted yesterday that it was “implementing its climate commitments” while signalling no new policies following the publication of the IPCC report, reports AFP via France 24. When asked for a response to the report, a spokesperson from China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs told the newswire in a statement that “China has insisted on prioritising sustainable, green and low-carbon development”, the report says. “The statement referenced the carbon neutrality target [for 2060], and said the global community should have full confidence in China’s climate actions,” it adds. China’s Global Times, a state-run newspaper, says that China and the US “should join hands in limiting warming and tackling challenge together”. An expert tells the publication: “China-US cooperation in the area of climate change will help restore the balance of collaboration between China, the US and the EU on the issue, and form a united and cooperative system to jointly tackle such a global challenge.” Another article from the Global Times rounds up international media coverage about the IPCC report. In particular, it cites Alok Sharma, the UK minister in charge of COP26, who said that the world is on the brink of “catastrophe”.

On the same topic, Chinese financial publication Caixin cites Zhai Panmao, co-chair of the IPCC’s Working Group I and deputy director of the Chinese Academy of Meteorological Sciences. Zhai said: “What is clear is that climate change will cause more frequent heatwaves, and their intensity will be higher and higher.” Hong Kong-based Ta Kung Pao says that the rising sea level may inundate “multiple districts” of the city. It writes: “The UK will host the 26th UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Scotland in November, and the latest IPCC report has sounded the alarm bells for humankind.” The Paper21st Century Business HeraldScience and Technology Daily and South China Morning Post – among other Chinese outlets – also pick up the IPCC report. Elsewhere, UK-based MailOnline says that China’s state media “avoids mentioning” that China is “by far the world’s biggest polluter” in its coverage of the UN report. [Media outlets in mainland China rarely mention the line in any climate reporting. Instead, they say that China’s per-capita and cumulative emissions are lower than many western countries, especially the US. This article from China.com is an example.]

Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that a new generation of oil refiners in China, nicknamed “Teapot 2.0”, is “thriving” by “aligning themselves with President Xi Jinping’s vision” on clean energy. A separately Bloomberg article writes: “Beijing is positioned to be a winner in the energy transition. Is the rest of the world ready?​“​​ Furthermore, a China Daily opinion piece says that China is “becoming more and more proactive” in aligning its overseas investments through the Belt and Road Initiative with the Paris Agreement. The article is co-authored by Dimitri de Boer, chief representative of ClientEarth’s China office, and Christoph Nedopil Wang, founding director of the Green Belt and Road Initiative Center. Finally, a report from the Wall Street Journal analyses if the EU’s newly proposed carbon border-adjustment mechanism could push China to cut CO2 emissions.

‘No place to hide’: pressure on Australia to end support for new fossil fuel projects after IPCC report
The Guardian Read Article

Australian politicians are facing calls for an immediate end to new fossil fuel investments in light of the latest IPCC report, says the Guardian. It quotes campaigners calling for coal and gas projects to be shut down after the nation’s prime minister Scott Morrison said that “technological breakthroughs” to come would ensure the world transitioned to a low-emissions future. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Barnaby Joyce, leader of Morrison’s coalition partners the Nationals, has “dismissed” calls for stronger targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions in comments made to the newspaper. It says that this “confirm the obstacle” facing Morrison in negotiating a goal of net-zero emissions by 2050 ahead of the COP26 climate summit later this year. There, the piece notes that Australia is “likely to be isolated if it does not upgrade its target”.

Wildfires in Algeria: dozens of civilians and soldiers reported dead
The Guardian and Agencies Read Article

Algeria’s prime minister has confirmed that more than 40 people, including 25 soldiers, have have died in wildfires that erupted east of the Algerian capital, reports the Guardian. Ayman Benabderrahmane told state television that the government had asked for help from the international community, the paper explains: “Dozens of fires started up on Monday in the Kabyle region and elsewhere, and Algerian authorities sent in the army to help citizens with the blazes and evacuations…[The region] has many difficult-to-access villages and limited water. Some villagers were fleeing, while others tried to hold back the flames themselves, using buckets, branches and rudimentary tools. The region has no water-dumping planes.”

Meanwhile, Reuters reports that government officials in Chile have said a decade-long drought is clear evidence of global warming. Science minister Andres Couve told the newswire yesterday that the steady decline in water reserves due to climate change was now a “national priority.” He said “We already have overwhelming evidence and it is climatic evidence…We are seeing a very significant decrease in rainfall and that is generating water shortages.” A climatologist from the University of Santiago added: “Our only advantage is we now know how climate change will hit us hardest, so we know what we need to do to face the consequences.”

And in other extreme weather news, Reuters reports that the power grid operator in Texas, US, yesterday forecast that demand this week would reach its highest in 2021 as homes and businesses crank up air conditioners to escape another heatwave. And a piece in the Guardian looks at how heat, drought and fire have been combining for a “perfect storm” in California this summer. (This week’s new IPCC report has considered “compound” extreme events in detail for the first time – see Carbon Brief’s explainer.)

Comment.

Climate doubters lose one of their last remaining arguments
Editorial, The Washington Post Read Article

An editorial in the Washington Post examines a key message from the new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. It notes that previous work by the IPCC has suggested a “wide range of likely scenarios” for future warming, between 1.5-4.5C. “Doubters argued that warming might end up reflecting the low end of this range. Why force economic disruption to stave off warming that experts admit might not be as bad as some fear?” However, in the new report the IPCC has “voided this argument”, narrowing the so-called “climate sensitivity” range to 2.5-4C, “ruling out the benign warming scenarios doubters insisted were still possible”. More on climate sensitivity can be found in Carbon Brief’s Q&A on the report.

Separately, an opinion piece in the Guardian by climate scientist Prof Simon Lewis is titled: “Let’s say it without flinching: the fossil fuel industry is destroying our future.” It says that the findings of the latest IPCC report must be used to apply pressure to governments to bring an end to the “fossil fuel era”. “The climate crisis is not caused by vague ‘human actions’; nor is it a result of some innate aspect of human nature. It is caused by specific investments by specific people in specific things. Change those, and we can change the future,” Lewis writes. A piece in the Financial Times by science writer Anjana Ahuja says that the “drive for certainty has always been the enemy of action” in climate science, noting the certainty in the language of the new IPCC report compared to relatively tentative language in the past. A piece in Bloomberg explains what it means when the IPCC uses the word “unequivocal” to describe the link between human activity and climate change. Meanwhile, an article in Reuters describes the “joy” and “frustration” of scientists working on the report.

Other commentators are less impressed by the IPCC’s findings. Writing in the Australian, its climate-sceptic environment editor Graham Lloyd says it “does not draw any startling new conclusions”. Also, despite the unprecedented certainty with which IPCC scientists linked extreme weather events to climate change, Lloyd says that this “remains a relatively new science and the results do not always have a high degree of confidence”. Carbon Brief has an explainer about what the new report says about these links.

Theoretical physicist Steven E Koonin, who has also expressed climate-sceptic views, writes in the Wall Street Journal that despite the dire warnings about climate change “ we should be wary of the torrent of hyperbole that is sweeping the globe”. Two Daily Telegraph comment pieces, one by Philip Johnston and another by Eliot Wilson, criticise what they see as overly “apocalyptic language” and “doom mongering” when discussing the report and climate change in general. Wilson notes that the “global nature of the threat lends itself easily to windy speechifying (and few are windier than the prime minister); but the actions necessary to chip away at our carbon emissions are often small and quotidian. The secret is stitching them all together to make a larger and more effective patchwork”.

Morrison must heed climate warning or pay at the next election
Editorial, The Sydney Morning Herald Read Article

A Sydney Morning Herald editorial states that the “grim [IPCC] predictions…should give the Morrison government all the evidence it needs to take stronger action quickly to cut Australia’s greenhouse emissions”. It notes that for the first time the IPCC included detailed regional forecasts which showed Australia is set to face growing threats including more droughts and bushfires in the south and east, and more destructive flooding rains in the north. An editorial in Australia’s Age also calls on politicians to pay more attention to the reality of climate change, as well as the potential benefits of decarbonising the economy. “The future of their constituents depends on it,” it notes.

Meanwhile, an editorial in the South China Morning Post says the report provides crucial information for leaders ahead of COP26 and states that “most importantly, governments need to work together” to address climate change. “China and the US, whose leaders have still to meet, should set an example,” it notes. In the UK, the Daily Mirror has a short editorial that also emphasises the need for collaboration across borders. “Individually we can do our bit but the world will only be saved for future generations if the British government oversees a green revolution and acts in concert with other nations.”

In the US, the Boston Globe has an opinion piece written by the president’s climate envoy John Kerry which reflects on the IPCC’s findings and describes the science on climate change as “blinking red”. Kerry calls COP26 a “a turning point” and says “I’ve faced a number of tough policy choices over the course of my career. This isn’t one of them. Few choices offer as many positive outcomes…as the choice to respond in earnest to the climate crisis”.

Finally, IPCC author Joeri Rogelj has written a post on LinkedIn explaining what in his view the latest climate change report means for COP26. “The importance of keeping to the Paris Agreement’s temperature target of holding warming well below 2C and ideally 1.5C is emphasised once more by these findings. Updated and improved pledges at COP26 are essential to achieving this,” he says.

Getting 19 Republican infrastructure votes won't stop runaway temperatures and wildfires
Editorial, San Francisco Chronicle Read Article

An editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle pours cold water on any suggestion that Joe Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure spending bill can be seen as a success story for climate action in the US. “For all its enduring power in the minds of president Biden and other proud adherents of obsolete Washington traditions, bipartisanship can’t stop the seas from rising or the planet from warming,” it states. The editorial points out that the agreement reached between Republicans and Democrats eliminated more than half of Biden’s original spending proposal, “disproportionately measures meant to limit the pollution exacerbating planetary warming”. With the bill coming shortly after the IPCC’s report this week, the editorial says it is insufficient to meet the challenge of climate change. It notes that to “mollify” those concerned about the loss of climate spending from the bill, Democratic leaders are promising to pass more ambitious climate measures in a separate bill through the so-called “reconciliation process”, which could avoid the need for bipartisanship. However, the piece concludes that even this will rely on the cooperation of “conservative Democrats more concerned about the imagined ideals of our forefathers than the real dangers facing us and our children”.

Meanwhile, a piece by Guardian US columnist David Sirota describes how former president Barack Obama spoke of climate action, but in practice supported fossil fuels. He says Biden “may well follow in his footsteps” as he champions “a bipartisan infrastructure bill that omits major climate initiatives”.

An editorial in the Financial Times strikes a more positive tone, stating that “any evidence of bipartisanship in what has been the most partisan era since post-civil war reconstruction is to be applauded”. It notes that due to the Democrats making the first bill passing contingent on the second, which includes “significant investments in clean energy”, the US is going to get “both bills – which would be preferable – or neither”.

Science.

Plant uptake of CO2 outpaces losses from permafrost and plant respiration on the Tibetan Plateau
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Read Article

A new study has found that, over 2002-20, the carbon sink of the Tibetan Plateau was four times larger than previously thought. The authors examined 32 sites, 26 of which were CO2 sinks, and carried out “manipulative experiments” and model simulations. The study notes that the CO2 sink peaks at an altitude of around 4,000 meters. The authors also find that CO2 fixation by plants will outpace the loss of CO2 from permafrost thaw and “accelerated autotrophic respiration” in a warming climate until the 2090s. “We therefore suggest that there is a plant-dominated negative feedback to climate warming on the Tibetan Plateau”, the authors conclude.

THE BRIEF

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